20 September, 2020

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We’ll Go Wild In Wilderness

By Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

A well-dressed safari jeep driver entered our bungalow before we getting into the jeep. It was still dark as it was in the wee hours of the day and we were ready to take off for a full day safari in the national park. The driver, clad in a dark green uniform gave us a fifteen minute briefing on the ‘code of conduct’ within the park.

“I am happy that all of your dresses are in earth colors. We should avoid sharp and dark colors when entering the park. Please try to avoid flash when you photographing animals. Try not to speak loud and not to make noices….” he went on with a list of dos and don’ts. Don’t forget, he is not the wildlife tracker, he still is the safari jeep driver.

Also please do not get misguided – this was not in Yala or Wilpattu or any-other national parks in Sri Lanka, but this was in Tadoba National Park in Maharashtra, India.

It was a Maruti Suzuki Gypsy type small jeep that runs on gasoline (petrol) which could barely fit six of us of the group. No diesel vehicles are allowed within the park due to air and sound pollution.

Both sides of the jeep carried its wildlife department registration number which is a must for all private safari operators.

“We need to hurry up as we have to join the queue as early as possible. Only a limited number of jeeps are allowed to enter the park,” said the driver and rushed to join the line of entry. We were lucky to be among the firsts in the row.

Yala PixThen joined the wildlife tracker in a different uniform with a warm greeting but then continued another session of advices to us on dos and donts. “No speeding than 20 kms per hour, no diversion from the designated track, no reversing, no horn, no use of mobile phones within the park, no flash when using cameras……” a long list of nos. “We are entering their territory, so we need to obey their likes and dislikes,” said the tracker.

As there was a complete ban on mobile phones or any other communication equipment, one has to rely on pure luck in spotting an animal. Even if the driver gets a news about an animal movement from a passing-by jeep, he cannot speed up beyond the allowed limits to track the animal.

After a couple of hours we reached a place of retreat with all sanitary facilities. Well cleaned toilets, place to relax and have a cup of tea – a well thoughtful design.

If you have had any experience in Yala or any other national park in Sri Lanka, just compare this situation and see the difference.

No one knows how many safari jeeps are operating within the Yala National Park as there is no system to register them. Thus, there is no regulation whatsoever over the safari operators. The total number of jeeps in the area could be as high as 700 and on busy long weekend days one could find at least 400 to 500 jeeps entering the park per session. A couple of weeks ago some 25 CTB busses entered the park carrying some visitors from North and there were more than 200 safari jeeps on top of that on that particular day as well, said a wildlife official. Imagine the status of the wildlife within the park when you have such massive vehicle traffic congestion – like a highway.

“I have been a safari jeep driver for the past seven years but never have had any kind of orientation or training on my conduct within the wildlife environment,” said a Safari jeep operator in Yala who did not want to be identified. “The only means of information or advice we have are the sign boards and some literature available at the ticket counters. But those printed literature, too, is not available now,” he said.

Whenever there is a sight of an animal, a gold rush by all speeding safari jeeps is a common feature creating heavy traffic congestions within the park. This blame should not go to the safari operators but to the Wildlife Department for not making even a simple effort to regulate the system.

The recent incident within Yala National Park a couple of weeks ago where a rare breed of leopard died raised many concerns at all levels of the society including that of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who ordered a full scale inquiry into the incident. The blame usually went to Safari jeep drivers but their version is entirely different. According to the autopsy report into the incident has suggested that the accident had occurred at least four hours before recovering the dead body of the animal, said a spokesman of the safari jeep operators association in Yala. The body of the leopard had been cited around 6 am of that particular day and that means the accident might have happened late in the night where no safari jeeps are available within the park. However, the association of wildlife rangers recently announced a cash gift for a tip-off on the culprit.

“Another concern within our national parks is the absence of toilet facilities which is an extremely embarrassing situation,” said the jeep operators association spokesperson. Visitors have to use the “nature toilets” in Patanangala where it is smelly and highly un-hygienic. The department charges a handsome amount as service charge from its visitors but no service at all, he said. Human refuse is not good for the health of animals but the wildlife department has no concern on the well-being of animals rather than collecting entrance fee, he added.

He recalled a comment by a recent foreign visitor after using the ‘jungle toilet.’

“Sri Lanka has the highest literacy rate, but when it comes to hygiene conditions here, you are the lowest. India is thousand times better,” he has said.

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Thanks for this report, Ranga. Similar conditions to what you describe also prevail in African Reserves that are brilliantly run with both visitors and wildlife in mind.

    Hopefully readers will circulate this among their friends who have the interests of our National Parks ( not to mention the wildlife) at heart. I know I will.

    It’s high time the GOSL takes the initiative to rectify the shortcomings prevailing here and enforce a strict code of conduct for staff and visitors, particularly with our politicians, who seem to think that they can do whatever they want whenever they feel like it.

  • 3
    0

    A timely reminder of best practices in other countries to our park management officials and the visitors to our national parks. Thank you Dr Kalansooriya. It is logic and common sense that is absent here in Sri Lanka. Sadly we are very selfish society, as one experiences everyday on our public roads, and that same behavior is extended to wherever they go. The toilet paper that is strewn inside the national parks near rivers, is shameful. The “bath” packet plastic sheets and plastic soft drink bottles, and silly silly bags, are just unforgivable. Trashing places we go seems to be a national pastime. There is a need to improve the mindset of people and national media needs to hold a mirror to reflect the behavior of people from all strata of society. The park management issue can be rectified if a mandatory orientation session is conducted at the entrance for all visitors, by installing a very information oriented visitor center and a briefing room. Thank you Ranga for sharing this article with us.

  • 3
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    Thats is how I would expect a Wild life park to be run and handled. Sri Lanka is a jungle in itself with a Government that leaves the animal kingdom in shame.
    You just cannot teach most Sri Lankans anythng cos his/her character is so damn rotten.

  • 5
    0

    Thank you for the brilliant pice. For starters I think we should ban all private vehicles be it be Jeeps or buses entering all our national parks. When entering the parks it should be done using safari jeeps, registered with park management. This I hope is the first step to sort this issue out!

  • 0
    0

    Beautiful srilanka have so much to offer for the people all over the world. But when comes to national parks, sigiriya ,pinnawala elephant sanctuary, Even beaches have NO toilet facilities. Garbage everywhere. No trash containers. This is so embarassing . No toilets to be found when travelling by bus to east or northern province. Hygiene in srilanka is the worst when comparing to other tourist nations. Build some decent facilities and charge from users. A beautiful toilet by the beach / Tsunami waves reminder monument in Yala park would make a lots of difference. Please help us to keep our country clean and loveable.

  • 2
    0

    Dear wildlife lovers,
    In fact there are lot of complex of issues, related to Safari vehicles speeding up alone.
    In the recent times particularly after the end of the war the visitors are most at fault within the parks, they are “BRAVE” enough to getting down anywhere from the safari Jeep or for that matter even a bus load of people, for the thrill of doing the things that have been prohibited, for dining, etc. Usually dining is not allowed and the accompanying guides have to stay strictly stick on to the laid caveats in the best interests conserving the wildlife at its best. So what happens here? The visitors themselves are at fault here as they are prepared to bribe the guides enormously and make a dumb brute to do what ever they wanted to do, in the Park, and the very pathetic is the guides them self know who and who would bribe them more and less or nothing and here lies first reason for speeding up safari;since the registered guides are send in a rotational basis by the officer at the entrance. Since there is no MINIMUM time regulation for each group accompanied by a Guide who is a paid employee of Dept. of WLC, either thru a pay roll or on permanent basis ( Game Guard on free list) no matter the both are vulnerable to the irresponsible act of the visitors. The 2nd reason for speeding up is safari jeep owners themselves, here safari owners have to be registered with Local Park Warden (now they have changed the designation for bull shit)that is fed back to Dept.WLC and STRICT MINIMUM REGULATION FOR EACH GROUP would address these two issues. Asst. Directors are white collar jobs and Park Wardens & Rangers are blue collar jobs that is why the Change is bull shit!
    For littering quite obviously the irresponsible visitors, the electronic media can play an immense role through some simple presentations with some patriotic mission to educate the visitors with the reasons of caveats within a park.
    Patanangala issue I am totally amused, since there is a nice Bungalow, with toilets to relieve an urgent natural call. Here the Guide on duty at fault, unless the entire BUS LOAD of people on that particular day called at once for urgent relieve, this wouldn’t the case or the fisher man off the sea near by are culprits. On top of it each entrance is with toilet facility, and assigned guide has to speak louder to advise them finish those at the entrance itself before setting off. No visitors should be allowed to get down from the vehicle what so ever reason unless they have booked a camp side or a Bungalow.

  • 0
    0

    Visited Yala couple of days back and now we have to enter the park as groups with 05 jeeps.this was after that unfortunate death of leopard said above.So the possibility of violating the rules become lesser.It seems this is a good practice but don’t know will it be last long since this is sri lanka.

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